William Holman Hunt (1827 - 1910)

Pre-Raphaelite artist and his connections to Ewell

William Holman Hunt
William Holman Hunt (self-portrait).

Biographies of this artist which assert that he had been either christened or married at St Mary's parish church, Ewell, are incorrect. The opening paragraph from the Oxford DNB (accessible via the Surrey libraries website) reports : -
"[the] painter, was born on 2 April 1827 at Love Lane, Wood Street, Cheapside, in the City of London, the third of the seven children of William Hunt (1800-1856) and his wife, Sarah (bap. 1798, d. 1884), daughter of William and Ann Hobman of Rotherhithe. He was baptized at St Giles Cripplegate on 10 June, the church register giving his father's profession as warehouseman. William Hunt's employer was the haberdashery manufacturer James Chadwick & Brother, of 3 Little Love Lane."
Whilst his parents' marriage appears in the registers of St Paul's, Deptford on 29 August 1822. Sarah Hobman's baptism had also taken place there on 18 February 1798, and a brother, William, 10 November 1799.

William Hobman's marriage seems to have been celebrated at St Peter's, Walworth, on 13 August 1829 - to Elizabeth Prier. In 1838, William Hobman, William 'Holman' Hunt's uncle, formerly of 5 Nest Street, Walworth, acquired the copyhold of Ewell Marsh Farm with some freehold land. This would appear to represent the family's arrival in the village: only later, after 1841, did the Hobmans become rent-paying tenants in Rectory Farm, Ewell, of Sir George Lewen Glyn. Reportedly, William Hobman had resumed residence in Marsh Farmhouse by 1857: he was there in the 1861 Census, when the house was called 'Marsh Villa', described as a 'landed proprietor', and by 1871 the premises had become known as 'Park Farm'.

In The Pre-Raphaelites on this website, Jeremy Harte remarks: -
"Holman Hunt wrote of his visits to Ewell with great fondness. He had a wide knowledge of nature and the birds and flowers around the local countryside, as is shown in great detail in both his and Millais' painting along the river Hogsmill. One of Hunt's pictures, painted in 1851, shows scenes around a pool or pond very much like his drawings of the Hogsmill. This was called The Haunted Manor, and may have been painted at Ewell, though others have suggested Wimbledon Park. The building at top right does look very much like Fitznells.
Rectory Farm
Rectory Farm c.1900
Image courtesy of Surrey Libraries and is held in the
Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection

Rectory Farm on the 1866 OS Map
Rectory Farm on the 1866 OS Map

William Holman Hunt was connected to Ewell though his aunt and uncle. His mother's brother, William Hobman, farmed at Rectory Farm in Church Street, a seventeenth-century building clad in white weather-boarding demolished in 1905. William Hobman and his wife were the rich relations of the Hunts; they had no children and the Hunts had intended to christen their boy William Hobman Hunt. Unfortunately the clerk spelt the name wrong on the baptismal certificate, and when the artist found that he was officially Holman Hunt he was happy to adopt this new version.

Ewell Church by Holman Hunt
The Old Church, Ewell by William Holman Hunt 1847.

In an early visit to his relations in 1847, Holman Hunt painted the old church, of which only the tower now stands. The vicar, Sir George Glyn, offered to buy the picture if it was done well. The figures were added later. The architectural details are accurately recorded, and Hunt may have known that the building was threatened - it was to be demolished a year later. He did allow himself a little artistic licence with his signature, which can be found on the third gravestone from the right in the foreground. After its purchase by Sir George Glyn, the painting went missing but many years later was found in an old building in time to be shown at the Tate Gallery in their Pre-Raphaelite exhibition of 1984.

Cornfield at Ewell by Hunt
Cornfield at Ewell by William Holman Hunt.

Holman Hunt did a number of drawings of Rectory Farm, including a view of the kitchen with his aunt at work over the stove and the chickens hunting over the floor for food. His picture of A Cornfield at Ewell was painted in 1849, 'at his uncle's farm' according to the label. In A Day in the Country he shows a couple who have just got off the coach to visit an old lady. The building in the background is Rectory Farm. Perhaps the people are Hunt and his wife visiting his aunt.

A Day in the Country by Hunt
A Day in the Country by William Holman Hunt.

Having met John Everett Millais, who was to become his closest friend and colleague, in the summer of 1844, while studying in the British Museum, Hunt was encouraged re-apply to the Royal Academy Schools; at the third attempt Hunt was enrolled as a probationer, on 11 July, becoming a full student on 18 December.

Clearly Hunt started painting in Ewell some time before the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed at the end of 1848.

In Volume 1 of his 'Pre-Raphaelitism and the pre-Raphaelites' (1905) William Holman Hunt described the village and Hogsmill river as their rural charm was recalled in his old age: -
"EWELL - Ye well - in Surrey, at the time I speak of, had a true claim to be a home of repose. The fount in its slab-formed cradle at the entrance of the village was, in fact, only the public appearance of the newly-born stream, the true source being on the left side of the road hidden by a garden wall. And yet when the pedestrian, a-dust, athirst, and sun-dazed, stepped within the surrounding rails of the crystal well, his eyes rested on the refreshing waters ere he raised them to his parched lips. The wide earth's thank-offering of a spring of water out-pouring in its sparkling purity is ever a delight to the soul of man. The village itself had no sense of modern bustling or hurry; all was arranged spaciously, all work executed with deliberation, and with such unostentation that externally there was but little to distinguish the chemist's shop from the baker's, or any other tradesman's house from that of his neighbour. On the outskirts of the trading centre there were gentlemen's homes and farmsteads; and Nonsuch Park, of Elizabethan fame, still gave a stately grace farther afield, although the quaint palace had long since gone from sight. Banstead and Epsom Downs formed the horizon to the south. The water from the spring bore itself away in an opposite direction, first carolling along a pebble-strewed channel into a shallow pool crossed by a flat bridge, whence by the quiet searcher might be seen red-spotted trout poised in mid-water, and casting their sleeping sun-shadows on to the mossy gravel below, steady as though painted there. In the region beyond, the stream expanded bordered by well- tended lawns, and patterned with gaily flowered garden beds; between these widened borders lay an islet with weeping willows kissing the surface of the water. Peering down between the reflected boughs into the varnished shadows of the forest of weeds, the loiterer, lightly tip-toeing forward, might see the suspicious fish flitting lightning-like into unsearchable caverns. A stone's- throw off, the pulsing wheel drew one's attention, and enticed one's steps along a road to the face of the mill, where whitened men bearing sacks of flour descended and ascended inclined planks between upper doorways and vans. A further mill was so walled-up as to conceal the water in its channel. In the meadows below, the young current revelled in freedom, oft-times taking a double course around mounds of earth well furnished with flourishing growth, then joining again and channelling itself through ditch-divided banks, under a forest of willows, with but occasional signs of any master's control. An opening in the wooded hollow led to a track of cart ruts, winding round into the river, where it broadened out into a shallow ford; the wheel-marks led the way and tempted reckless feet to ford the transparent glaze of shining water, leading to a road bordered by blossoming trees and an ancient orchard, the herald of a farmhouse telling of past centuries. Beyond the house was a nave of noble elms extending in perspective to the sky-line. Stopping at the entrance to the avenue, any lover of nature's shy creatures would be drawn towards a large lonely tarn, well-nigh carpeted with duckweed and white blossom wherever the reeds and flags had not pierced through the surface, or where far, or near, the wild -fowl, or farm ducks and geese, had not cleared a domain for themselves. The wild-fowl met their domestic cousins on the common plain, although not with trust and unreserve, unless indeed the cackling recognition of the inquisitive intruder was intended to be, as it certainly was, the signal for the uprising of an inconceivably large flock of shy birds from the further extremity of the lakelet, the brood fleeing away beyond pursuit of sight.

Our little river below had to narrow itself to pass under the span of a brick-built arch made for neat-booted lasses and swains; it then deepened and passed between banks, husbanding the current's force for man's further will; it rippled along, circling in dimples as it was driven under sheltering willows, its banks strewn with long- disused mill -stones, discarded roller-beams, and ruined timber cog-wheels. Soon the flood was imprisoned by sluice gates; close at hand were abandoned huts, shuttered, overgrown, and choked with rank weeds. Here the kingfisher arrowed his way, the wild pigeon chattered and cooed, and the distant cuckoo voice noted the season. Between all could now be heard the plash and cranking of a near water-wheel. Now cut off from confiding trust, not even the lonely angler ventured thus far; the region was out of the ordinary world; being thus beyond the limits of common experience when, in the remoter solitude, a being, black as a creature of dark Avernus
[a poetic reference to the entrance to the infernal regions], passed by, he seemed fitly to haunt the scene. He was, however, only one who, for extra pay and much idleness, passed the day and night in turn with another man visiting at intervals a neighbouring gunpowder mill, shovelling up the deadly mixture always being ground by a revolving crusher on a circular platform. The water served two neighbouring mills, and then for a mile or so it revelled in wanton freedom, cutting deep down into hollow meadows, nearly covered by border tangle. It emerged again between well-trimmed banks for further mill service before it got finally free in wide meadow-land.

All this luscious and lonely charm of dell and meadow had very early a fascination for me, and it was natural that I should attempt to register some of its mystery by my art. Accordingly, I began a painting of the pool above one of the first mills, with the sun glistening down and penetrating through every nook of the landscape. The difference between the scene as it was presented to my untutored sight, and any single landscape by the great painters that I knew, suggested the doubt, when I had begun the subject on my drawing-board, whether it was not one which a practical painter should avoid. This doubt was not removed when it grew increasingly evident that, spite of perseverance, the time remaining for the completion of my view would in no way suffice for its accomplishment. The fact was that no more than two or three days could be allotted to this work, and to achieve it in the manner in which it was begun would have needed about six weeks. I left off, blaming only my want of masterliness, when in fact it was more the lack of opportunity to persist in my course that was at fault.

A dear uncle and aunt who then lived at the Rectory Farm were my hosts in this pleasant place of retreat. Sometimes a cousin was also a visitor. He had a riding cob kept in the stables, and with this we made excursions, travelling ride and tie. Sometimes, with an extra mount for myself, we scampered over Banstead Downs to Epsom racecourse and to Ashford [Ashtead] Park, and so I saw every variety of the country within miles of the weeping " eyne "
[archaic plural of 'eye'] of the valley."
He also made reference to his relations from Rectory Farm going over to Worcester Park towards the end of 1851: -
"Before we left, Millais' friends the Lemprieres, Sir George Glynn, and many worthies of the neighbourhood came to visit us.

My uncle at Ewell and his admirable wife were among our visitors. They were full of deferred curiosity to see the pictures we three had been doing, and they drove over in their light chaise to luncheon; they both highly enjoyed dwelling on all the field growths of our paintings, but they caused us much laughter about a water rat which Millais had put in his 'Ophelia'. The creature was perfectly correct in its perspective, but in comparison with the flowers on the other side of the stream with the intervening space not painted, it appeared prodigiously large, and my uncle guessed twenty different varmint without hitting on the little beast it was intended to be. The painter wanted to test how far the rat was a good likeness, and would not help the critic, until my uncle gave up the question in despair. The creature had been introduced to give the idea of a lonely peacefulness in the spot, but its presence suggested a painful idea, and though it had been exquisitely treated, eventually Millais reluctantly erased it....

With all our work done we took leave of the farm household and came up to town in December..."
On 28 December 1865 William Holman Hunt married Fanny Waugh at Christ Church, Paddington [Reg. Kensington 12/1865]. A bridesmaid was Marion Edith Waugh, then aged about eighteen*.

In August 1866 the couple set out for the Holy Land, where the artist planned to paint scenes of the life of Christ in the most authentic setting possible. They were delayed in Florence, Italy, where day after day in intense heat Fanny posed for Hunt behind a chair that concealed her pregnancy. Their son was born in October; two months later Fanny died of complications from the delivery.

Full details of "A Tragedy in Florence" may be found at www.florin.ms/gimeld.html#oconnor.

The Grave of Fanny Waugh Hunt
The Grave of Fanny Waugh Hunt
Image source The Victorian Web

Oxford DNB tells us: -
"His late wife's youngest sister (Marion)* Edith (1846-1931) had been in love with him since 1868, and in June 1873 they became engaged, even though union with a deceased wife's sister was (until 1907) proscribed under English law. Their courageous decision to proceed isolated them from both their families. The marriage took place in Neuchâtel on 8 November 1875, and in the following month they sailed from Venice to Alexandria en route for Jerusalem."
On 27 May 1880, William Hobman and Elizabeth, his wife, sold off Park Farm, formerly known as Ewell Marsh Farm and in the 1881 Census were enumerated at 53 Studley Road, Lambeth. The widowed Sarah A Hunt, nee Hobman, aged 83, lived nearby at 16 Station Road, Lambeth.

Sale Particulars Park Farm, Ewell
Sale Particulars Park Farm, Ewell
The Times 3 July 1882

Houses in Heatherside Road and Fulford Road have been built on Marsh Farm land. The old farmhouse, apparently re-vamped in Victorian times, survives in back land with access numbered 34 Heatherside Road.

Park Farm on the 1895 OS Map
Park Farm on the 1895 OS Map

Elizabeth Hobman, William's wife, deceased 3 May 1881, late of Park Farm, Ewell, was brought for burial in Epsom Cemetery on 10 May (Death reg. Lambeth 6/1881).

The death of Sarah Hunt, Holman Hunt's mother, aged 86, was registered at Lambeth 12/1884.

William Hobman, Gentleman, died 21 October 1887 aged 88, to join his late wife in a burial plot at Epsom Cemetery on 27 October. (Death reg. Lambeth 12/1887)

On 22 August 1910, Holman Hunt took a chill in the garden of his house at Sonning-on-Thames, Berkshire. As his illness worsened he was brought back to his home, 18 Melbury Road, Kensington, where he died on 7 September 1910 from emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and respiratory and cardiac failure. Since the deceased had left instructions that he should be cremated, his funeral took place on 10 September at Golders Green crematorium.

The Times obituary of Holman Hunt appeared on the 8 September 1910, reports of his cremation on the 12th and burial in St Pauls Cathedral on the 13 September. These articles are available in The Times Digital Archive which can be accessed via Surrey Libraries website.

Message From King And Burial In St Pauls The Times 10 September 1910
Message From King And Burial In St Pauls
The Times 10 September 1910

Brian Bouchard © 2011

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